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Stalin, Joseph Vissarionovich

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (stä´lĬn, Rus. vĬsəryô´nəvĬch stä´lyĬn), 1879–1953, Soviet Communist leader and head of the USSR from the death of V. I. Lenin (1924) until his own death, b. Gori, Georgia. His real name was Dzhugashvili (also spelled Dzugashvili or Djugashvili); he adopted the name Stalin ( "man of steel" ) about 1913.

Early Career

The son of a shoemaker, Stalin studied (1894–99) for the priesthood at the theological seminary at Tiflis, but was expelled. While still a divinity student, he became a convert to Marxism and joined the Social Democratic party in the Caucasus. He became a disciple of Lenin after the split (1903) of the party into factions of Bolshevism and Menshevism.

Stalin attended party congresses abroad (at Stockholm in 1906 and at London in 1907), but unlike Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and other revolutionists he did not choose prolonged exile abroad. Under the alias of Koba, taken from the name of a famous Georgian outlaw, he remained in the Caucasus. He was especially active in the party press. Between 1902 and 1913 he was arrested five times and each time escaped.

In 1911 he left the Caucasus for St. Petersburg, where in 1912 he became one of the first editors of Pravda [truth], then a small paper devoted to doctrinal disputes, later the official daily of the Communist party of the USSR. Stalin was arrested in 1913 and was exiled for life to N Siberia, where he remained until an amnesty was granted after the February Revolution of 1917. Back in St. Petersburg (by then, renamed Petrograd), he edited Pravda jointly with Lev Kamenev.

Rise to Power

After the October Revolution of 1917, Stalin, already a member of the central committee since 1912, entered the Soviet cabinet as people's commissar for nationalities and began to emerge as a leader of the new regime. During the civil war from 1918 to 1920 he played an important administrative role on the military fronts and in the capital. He was elected (1922) general secretary of the central committee of the party, enabling him to control the rank-and-file members and to build an apparatus loyal to him.

Stalin's significance in the revolutionary movement and his relation to Lenin have been subjects of great controversy. He was highly regarded by Lenin as an administrator but not as a theoretician or leader. Toward the end of his illness, which began in 1922, Lenin wrote a testament in which he strongly criticized Stalin's arbitrary conduct as general secretary and recommended that he be removed. However, he died before any action could be taken, and the testament was suppressed.

On Lenin's death, Stalin, Kamenev, and Grigori Zinoviev formed a triumvirate of successors allied against Trotsky, who was a strong contender to replace Lenin. After Trotsky was ousted (1925) as commissar of war, Stalin, now allied with Nikolai Bukharin, turned on Kamenev and Zinoviev. In a desperate attempt to counter Stalin's power, Zinoviev and Kamenev joined forces with Trotsky. Their efforts failed and they were forced to resign from the central committee of the Communist party. Stalin subsequently broke with Bukharin and engineered his fall from power.

A primary issue around which these party struggles centered was the course of the Russian economy. The right wing, led by Bukharin, favored granting concessions to the peasantry and continuing Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP). The left, represented by Kamenev and Zinoviev, wished to proceed with industrialization on a large scale at the expense of the peasants. Stalin's position wavered, depending on the political situation, and the NEP continued until 1928 with considerable success. Then Stalin reversed this policy and inaugurated collectivization of agriculture and the Five-Year Plan. Ruthless measures were taken against the kulaks, the farmers who had risen to prosperity under the NEP.

Soviet Leader

Prewar Years

The political and cultural aims of Stalin's regime were to identify the totalitarian rule of the Communist party with stability and legitimacy. The basic Marxist tenet of the ultimate "withering away" of the state was all but repudiated. Instead the state was glorified. The shift to the right was also manifest in the reorganization of the armed forces along disciplinarian lines reminiscent of the reign of Czar Nicholas I; in the official return to conservative divorce and abortion laws; in the gradual replacement of intransigent measures against the Russian Orthodox Church by a policy that made the church an instrument of the state; in the abandonment of experimental education in favor of rigid instruction; in the insistence on political criteria in the arts; and, most important, in the rebirth of nationalism and the mounting distrust of the West and of internationalism.

Stalin maintained that his program of consolidating "socialism in one country," although demanding immense sacrifice and discipline, would render the USSR immune to attacks by capitalist nations and would demonstrate the superiority of the socialist system. He thus repudiated, for the time being, the role of the Soviet Union as torchbearer of world revolution.

This process was accompanied by repressive measures and terror, which led to the collectivization famines (1930–33) and political purges of the 1930s. Stalin made his dictatorship absolute by liquidating all opposition within the party. The murder (1934) of S. M. Kirov, Stalin's lieutenant, led to prosecutions for an alleged plot—vast, Trotsky-inspired, and aided by Nazi Germany—to overthrow Stalin's government. In the purge trials many old Bolsheviks, including Kamenev, Zinoviev, Aleksey Rykov, and Bukharin, were accused, pleaded guilty, and were executed.

The purges extended even to the head of the secret police, G. G. Yagoda, and to some of the highest army officers, notably Marshal Tukhachevsky. The terror reached its height under the Yezhovshchina, the period (1937–38) when N. I. Yezhov directed the secret police. As the purges drew to a close (1939), the efforts of the secret police were concentrated on eliminating those elements of the population that might be disloyal in case of war. The Soviet system of forced labor camps, the Gulag, was hugely expanded during this period.

In internal policy, Stalin promulgated a new constitution in 1936 (see Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Although it contained symbols of democratic institutions, effective political power was reserved to the Communist party as the vanguard of the working people. Although it reaffirmed the Soviet principle of autonomy for the various nationalities, the constitution in effect made it impossible for republics or other national groups to secede from the union.

Wartime and After

Until 1934, Stalin had pursued the policy, initiated by the Treaty of Rapallo (see Rapallo, Treaty of, of friendship with Germany. After Adolf Hitler became (1933) chancellor of Germany, Stalin strove for international acceptance and cooperation, joining (1934) the League of Nations and attempting a rapprochement with Great Britain and France. The failure of such a rapprochement and the growing danger of war led Stalin to conciliate Hitler.

The nonaggression pact with Germany (Aug., 1939) was designed to keep the USSR out of World War II. The territorial concessions and strategic advantages granted the Soviet Union by Germany at the expense of other East European nations contributed to Stalin's underestimation of the German threat. The Nazi invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941, took Stalin—who in May had taken over the premiership from V. M. Molotov—by surprise; it temporarily paralyzed his leadership and nearly led to the collapse of the Soviet army.

The extent to which Stalin as a military leader subsequently contributed to Soviet victory has been fiercely debated among Soviet and Western authors; his forceful leadership was probably a greater asset than his military capability. He directed the war effort from the Kremlin, where he remained when the rest of the government was evacuated. He was voted the rank of marshal of the Soviet Union (1943) and of generalissimo (1945).

At the Tehran Conference (1943) and the Yalta Conference (1945) with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and at the Potsdam Conference (1945), Stalin proved an astute diplomat. His diplomatic skill led to the recognition by the Western powers of a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Having further strengthened his personal power in the course of World War II, Stalin used it ruthlessly to consolidate his control within the Soviet Union and the emerging Soviet empire against what he perceived as renewed capitalist threats. Always suspicious of Communist movements outside his control, he tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the Chinese Communists from taking power after World War II and broke with Josip Broz Tito in 1948 over the question of Yugoslavia's independent Communist policies.

Stalin's paranoia during the last years of his life led to increased repression and persecution of his closest collaborators, reminiscent of the purges of the 1930s. His public appearances, which had always been rare, became even less frequent in the late 1940s and early 50s. His remoteness only stimulated the public worship bestowed upon him, which verged on apotheosis.

Stalin died Mar. 5, 1953, of a cerebral hemorrhage. His body was entombed next to Lenin's in the mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow. Little is known of Stalin's private life except that he married twice and that both wives died (the second, Nadezhda Sergeyevna Alliluyeva, by suicide in 1932). Yakov, his son by his first wife, died in Nazi captivity. He had a son and a daughter by his second wife. His son, Vasily, was an officer in the Soviet air force before his death in 1962. His daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, defected to the United States in 1967.


At the 20th All-Union Party Congress in 1956, Nikita Khrushchev and other Soviet leaders attacked the cult of Stalin, confirming many accusations long current outside the USSR. They did not repudiate Stalin's economic policies, but accused him of tyranny and terror, falsification of history, and self-glorification. In 1961 the 22d Party Congress voted to remove Stalin's body from the Lenin mausoleum; he was then interred in the heroes' cemetery near the Kremlin wall. The term Stalinist, first used to distinguish Stalin's policies from those of Trotsky and others, came to mean a brand of Communism that was both national and repressive. Since Stalin's death the tyrannical implications of the term have become primary.


Stalin's writings form no cohesive body of political theory, although he claimed to represent the pure interpretation of Leninism and Marxism. Among Stalin's writings translated into English are Leninism (tr., 2 vol., 1928–33), Problems of Leninism (tr. 1934), The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union (tr. 1945), Stalin's Works (tr. 1952–55), and other collections of speeches, articles, and reports.

There are numerous biographies of Stalin, some adulatory, such as that of H. Barbusse (tr. 1935), some severely critical of him, such as that by Trotsky (tr. 1946, rev. ed. 1967). See A. Orlov, The Secret History of Stalin's Crimes (1953); M. D. Shulman, Stalin's Foreign Policy Reappraised (1963); R. C. Tucker, Stalin as Revolutionary, 1879–1929 (1973) and Stalin in Power (1990); A. B. Ulam, Stalin: The Man and His Era (1973, repr. 1989); G. Urban, Stalinism (1982); A. E. Arthur, Stalin and His Times (1986); A. DeJonge, Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (1986); R. H. McNeal, Stalin (1988); R. A. Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (2d ed. 1989); K. N. Cameron, Stalin (1989); R. Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment (1991) and Stalin: Breaker of Nations (1991); D. Volkogonov, Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy (1991); E. Radzinsky, Stalin (1996); S. Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism (1999); M. Amis, Koba the Dread (2003); S. Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2004); R. J. Overy, The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia (2004); R. Service, Stalin: A Biography (2005); S. Kotkin, Stalin (Vol. I, 2014).

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Stalin, Joseph


Joseph Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union and the Communist party from 1929 to 1953. He used ruthless methods to consolidate his power and ruled the Soviet Union by terror. His actions shaped the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, leading to the cold war after world war ii.

Stalin was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili on December 21, 1879, in Gori, now in the Republic of Georgia. He adopted the name Stalin, meaning "man of steel," in 1910. The son of peasants, his academic prowess led to a scholarship at a theological seminary. While studying for the priesthood, he began reading the works of karl marx. He soon left the seminary and joined the Social-Democratic party in 1899. His revolutionary activities led to his arrest and exile to Siberia seven times between 1902 and 1913. He escaped six times.

He aligned himself with the Bolshevik faction of the party, which was under the leadership of vladimir ilyich lenin. Lenin named Stalin to the Bolshevik's Central Committee in 1912 and in 1913 named him editor of the party newspaper, Pravda. He spent from 1913 until early 1917 in Siberian exile, returning to St. Petersburg to aid the Bolsheviks in overthrowing first the monarchy and then the provisional government. The November 1917 Bolshevik revolution put Lenin in charge. Stalin became a top aide to Lenin and helped the regime in winning a civil war against those who opposed the Bolsheviks.

In the early 1920s, Stalin began plotting to gain power. Before Lenin died in 1924, he expressed misgivings about Stalin's use of power. Nevertheless, Stalin joined in a three-man leadership group, called a troika, to govern the Soviet Union after Lenin's death. He quickly pushed aside all his rivals, including Leon Trot-sky, and became the supreme ruler by 1929.

During the 1930s Stalin collectivized all private farms in the Soviet Union and in the process sent a million farmers into exile. He embarked on a process of "russification," which put minority nationalities under strict control of the national government. In 1939, in concert with the Nazi government of adolf hitler, Stalin invaded eastern Poland. In 1940 he conquered the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Stalin also encouraged the growth of communism throughout the world. The Communist party of the United States grew rapidly during the Great Depression of the 1930s, in the process raising questions whether the party was a mere tool of Stalin and the international Communist movement. As a result of concerns about Communist subversion, Congress enacted the smith act (54 Stat. 670) in 1940. The legislation required aliens to register and be fingerprinted by the federal government. More importantly, the act made it illegal not only to conspire to overthrow the government but to advocate or conspire to advocate its overthrow. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, 71 S. Ct. 857, 95 L. Ed. 1137 (1951).

Stalin's 1939 nonaggression pact with Hitler proved futile: Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Stalin then aligned the Soviet Union with the United States and Great Britain in World War II. When the war in Europe ended in 1945, the Soviet Army occupied Eastern Europe and a large part of Germany. Stalin ignored agreements between the Allies and proceeded to impose Communist rule on these occupied countries.

The United States and Great Britain perceived Stalin's actions as attempts to force Communism on the world. In the late 1940s, the Soviet Union was captioned by the United States as the Red Menace, seeking to subvert democracy and capitalism. Stalin pushed the United States to the brink of a third world war when he ordered the blockade of Berlin in 1948 and 1949.

Fears about Communism were further stirred by the arrest of julius and ethel rosenberg in 1950 for providing the Soviet Union with secrets about the atomic bomb. To many people, the Rosenbergs were tools of Stalin and the Communist conspiracy. Other people, however, saw them as victims of political hysteria. The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953, yet several generations of historians have argued over their guilt or innocence.

Stalin's hard-line policies were met in kind by the West. In 1949 the United States created the north atlantic treaty organization, which committed U.S. forces to the defense of Europe. The outbreak of the korean war in 1950, which was started by Communists in North Korea, led to the deployment of U.S. troops to stave off Communist aggression. Stalin's determination to expand Soviet power and influence created the climate for the Cold War. The United States practiced a policy of

containment, with the goal of preventing the spread of Communism.

In his later years, Stalin literally rewrote the Soviet history books, turning himself into a heroic, godlike figure. Those who opposed him were exiled to Siberian labor camps or executed. Always suspicious of those around him, in 1953 he prepared to purge more party leaders. His plans were cut short, however, when he suffered a brain hemorrhage and died on March 5, 1953, in Moscow.

Stalin's methods were replicated by later Soviet leaders. The demise of European Communist regimes in the 1980s and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s signaled an end to Stalinism.

further readings

Gorlizki, Yoram, and Oleg Khlevniuk. 2003. Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 1945-1953. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Lee, Stephen J. 1999. Stalin and the Soviet Union. New York: Routledge.

Mawdsley, Evan. 2003. The Stalin Years: The Soviet Union 1929–1953. Manchester, N.Y.: Manchester Univ. Press.


Communism; Red Scare.

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Stalin, Josef

Stalin, Josef (1879–1953), Communist leader of the Soviet Union for a quarter of a century, including World War II and the formative years of the Cold War.Stalin, the pseudonym adopted by a young underground revolutionary and former Orthodox seminary student in Czarist Russia, means “man of steel.” This quality indeed marked the career of Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili, who was born in obscurity in Russian Georgia in December 1879 and died a feared autocrat and world leader in March 1953.

Stalin rose within Lenin's Bolshevik faction of the Rus sian Communist Party from 1898 through the Russian Revolution in 1917 and beyond. Following Lenin's death, he outmaneuvered Trotsky and other rivals and by 1929 became the sole leader of the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union. A shrewd and ruthless political infighter, he built a tyrannical but powerful totalitarian state. Millions were “liquidated” in massive “purges.” In inter national affairs, although Stalin's outlook was shaped by belief in a historically destined global victory for communism, he was also a realist and pragmatist.

When World War II came to the USSR in 1941, despite Stalin's political machinations to avoid German invasion (including the Nazi‐Soviet Pact of August 1939), the Soviet Union was ill‐prepared. Stalin, who had become prime minister as well as chief of the ruling party, also became commander in chief of the armed forces. For many Russians, he symbolized successful determination to win the war. The Soviet Union entered a grand alliance with Great Britain and the United States against the Axis powers (although against Japan only in the final weeks of the war). Stalin concentrated on winning the war, but not at the expense of constant calculation of how to enhance the international role and power of the Soviet Union in the postwar world. He dealt shrewdly with Western leaders, including Winston S. Churchill of Great Britain and Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference and Harry S. Truman at Potsdam. Despite victory and the founding of the United Nations, the very success of the wartime coalition ended the common interest that had brought the USSR and the Western democracies together. The end of World War II thus quickly led to the emergence of a new so‐called Cold War, dividing the former Allies.

Stalin's ideological predispositions, reinforced by personal suspiciousness, if not paranoia, led him to pursue an aggressive postwar course in foreign relations that constituted a central element in the unleashing of the Cold War. His reliance on a personal dictatorship within his own Communist Party, and a totalitarian state structure within the Soviet Union, required severe limitations on contact with the outside world. It also contributed to a conduct of relations with other states that soon resulted in the sharp drawing of lines between the bloc he controlled and the outside world.

Stalin sought to expand Communist rule, Soviet influence, and his own control in those places and under circumstances where it was possible. Unlike Adolf Hitler, however, he was not driven to advance where it was inexpedient, much less to court or initiate war. This was true of even the most apparent exception—the Korean War. Archival documents released in the 1990s showed that the principal impetus for a North Korean military attack on South Korea came from Kim Il Sung, although Stalin (and Chinese leader Mao Zedong) were led to approve and provide support for the attack and thus bear responsibility. Initially, however, Stalin refused to approve Kim's plans, and did so only when he mistakenly concluded that the United States would not intervene. The Korean attack was neither Stalin's test of Western resolve nor precursor to a possible Soviet attack in Western Europe, as was widely feared at the time.

In his last years, Stalin's paranoia grew, and he was about to launch a new purge of his henchmen when he suffered a stroke and died. Ironically, he had imagined or invented a plot by Kremlin doctors against Soviet leaders and removed long‐trusted doctors, aides, and guards; some of his threatened surviving entourage may then have hastened his death by denying medical assistance. In any event, succeeding leaders soon stopped virtually any mention of his name, a striking contrast to the ubiquitous glorification of Stalin that had emerged after the war. By 1956, his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, not only condemned “the cult of the individual” that had been built up by Stalin, but in a secret speech denounced his crimes against the people and the party. The lot of the people, while still subordinated to the interests of the state, improved. Stalin's successors also moved to reduce frictions with the rest of the world.

Thus, after Stalin's death, a general lessening of tension ensued. The Cold War, however, continued with varying intensity for another thirty‐six years, until a Soviet leader— Mikhail Gorbachev—came to power prepared to discard the “Stalinist” world view and so end the division of Europe and the world.
[See also Cold War: External Course; Cold War: Changing Interpretations.]


Adam B. Ulam , Stalin: The Man and His Era, 1973.
Robert C. Tucker , Stalin in Power, 1990.
Dmitri Volkogonov , Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy, 1991.

Raymond L. Garthoff

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Stalin, Joseph

Stalin, Joseph 18781953


Joseph Stalin (Ioseb Jughashvili) was born in the Georgian town of Gori on December 6, 1878. The son of a shoemaker, he rose through the Russian revolutionary movement to become the unchallenged leader of the Soviet Union. He adopted the name Stalin from the Russian word stal (steel) and advanced through the Bolshevik ranks after the movements leader, Vladimir Lenin, commissioned him to write a pamphlet titled Marxism and the National Question (1913). When the Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917, Stalin was named Peoples Commissar of Nationalities. His rivalry with the head of the Red Army, Leon Trotsky, contributed to the growing fractures within the party. Just before a stroke incapacitated him in March 1923, Lenin fought with Stalin over the formation of the new Soviet Union, and he advised his comrades to remove Stalin from his post as General Secretary of the Communist Party. The other leaders did not heed Lenins warning, however, and most of them paid with their lives a decade and a half later.

Stalin accumulated enormous power within the party through his skillful political manipulation and his willingness to resort to ruthlessness. By the early 1930s he had defeated all of his rivals for power. During the Stalin Revolution of 1928 to 1932, the state forced millions of peasants onto collective farms, exiled or killed the most productive peasants (the so-called kulaks ), and rapidly industrialized the economy. The height of Stalinist terror was reached in the Great Purges of 1937 and 1938, when approximately 700,000 people were executed and millions more were exiled, imprisoned, or died in labor camps.

Despite Stalins industrialization and militarization programs, the Soviet Union was not prepared for the German invasion of June 1941. Ultimately, the war was won by the tenacity and enormous sacrifice of the Soviet people, but Stalin provided inspiration for many, as well as the fear that one step backward would end in death. The Soviets lost some twenty-seven million people, but in the end the triumph over fascism provided the Communists with a new source of legitimation, and Stalin emerged with a new, uncontested authority.

Stalins postwar policies were repressive at home and expansive abroad. While he sporadically used repression against individuals and groups and deported ethnic minorities from newly annexed territories, he did not engage in mass killing on the scale of 1937. In dealing with his former allies during the cold war, Stalin attempted to maintain the Grand Alliance with the Western Great Powers while maintaining a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, where he could impose friendly governments. Western leaders refused to acquiesce in the expansion of Soviet influence, and the cooperation of the war years disintegrated into two hostile camps, each armed with atomic weapons.

In his last years, Stalin was enfeebled by strokes, and he deteriorated physically and mentally. His growing isolation, arbitrariness, and inactivity affected the entire country. The ruling elite engaged in plots and intrigues, while Stalin threatened his closest associates. He died of a massive stroke on March 5, 1953.

SEE ALSO Bolshevism; Cold War; Communism; Iron Curtain; Lenin, Vladimir Ilitch; Russian Revolution; Trotsky, Leon


Fitzpatrick, Sheila, ed. Stalinism, New Directions. 2000. London: Routledge.

Gorlizki, Yoram, and Oleg Khlevniuk. 2004. Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 19451953. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holloway, David. 1994. Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 19391956. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Lewin, Moshe. 1985. The Making of the Soviet System: Essays in the Social History of Interwar Russia. New York: Pantheon.

Service, Robert. 2005. Stalin, A Biography. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tucker, Robert C. 1973. Stalin as Revolutionary, 18791929: A Study in History and Personality. New York: W. W. Norton.

Ronald Grigor Suny

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